Egerton Chang | Robbery by ‘Starsky and Hutch’
I have faced gunmen more than four times in my life, and the fact is, I don't consider this abnormal or unusual, living in Kingston.
Yet, by the grace of God, I have been quite fortunate, more so than I thank Him for.
The first time was when my family's supermarket, on Half-Way Tree Road opposite to York Pharmacy, was held up in the late 1970s.
I, my first wife, Angela, and our two children, around three and four years old at that time, were entering from the back as the shutters were already drawn down, on reflection, a little early. This was around 7 p.m.
There was a big truck parked at the entrance, thus blocking the view from Texaco, across the road.
We arrived not knowing that a robbery was in progress.
Angela had gone up before me and had inexplicably locked the door behind her, thus locking me out.
I, realising I couldn't get in, got irate and upset and started to bang on it for someone to open it, shouting on the top of my voice, "Open the door, open the door."
Now, the shop has a back entrance that has a rather flimsy mesh door. Realising that no one was hearing me, I came back down to the back door of the shop. I shouted out, "Mama, Mama," to let them know I was there and asking them to let me in.
All I heard was a little commotion and a strange voice shouted out, "Who dat?" Almost simultaneously, I saw a gun pointing at me and I instinctively backed away out of sight.
I heard Mama shout, "Don't shoot him, don't shoot him."
Quickly assessing the situation, I ran over to York Pharmacy to call the police. My uncle, who had realised what was going on, actually beat me to it.
Meanwhile, my wife, children in tow, who had entered the family quarters from upstairs, told the tale of seeing this guy with a gun and still trying to go downstairs into the shop as she thought that they were just horse-playing.
Not realising that an actual robbery was in progress, she still attempted to go downstairs, and this time a knife was drawn. She says she still had not taken it serious until that knife was brought into play and she was forced back upstairs.
"I didn't take it serious because there was music playing, and so I thought it was just Victor (one of my brothers) and his friends spinning records, something he did quite frequently. So, I thought that the robber running around upstairs was just a friend of Victor's ... . "I still thought he was just kidding around with me, so I tried to go down the stairs, with Nadine in my arms. That's when he drew a knife and pointed the gun in my face, with his hands shaking. I then realised that this really was no friend at all!
"He told me, 'Go stand in the corner, and make no noise ... ."
The gunmen, who called themselves 'Starsky' and 'Hutch', had forced all my brothers to lie face down on the floor and proceeded to terrorise them, gun-butting them.
(Starsky and Hutch was a police TV thriller popular at the time.)
My eldest brother, Tony, got the worst of their brutality, and his face was bloodied terribly from their rage.
Anthony, Tony or 'A.B.' is the meekest, gentlest of souls one could ever imagine. Yet they wickedly brutalised him.
In fact, the first reports of the robbery said that Tony was shot and killed.
Nicky (another brother) recalls, "The truck had apparently 'broken down' around 4-5 p.m. that same day. The robbers came in and drew down the main shutter."
Still reflecting the trauma of that night so many years ago, Nicky says, "No one knew what was going on inside. We were completely at their mercy.
"In the end, they wanted to kill one of us, Tony or myself, and he, Victor and Mama begged for him while I was faced down on the floor. There is a lot to tell you, but I saw my life flash before me when they wanted to shoot Tony or me."
What is interesting is that none of the other customers were similarly told to lie on the ground.
Tony remembers one of the customers, a taxi driver, pleading for his life, shouting, "Don't shot me, don't shot me. I am a black man."
Quite ironically, Tony recalls that when the robbers were leaving, they didn't know quite how to get out!
Angela said, "I put the children on the balcony, after the gunmen herded Mom, Tony, Nicky, etc. up the stairs and they were all bloodied and so distressed.
"So that's when I started to look for a way out, by going on the balcony. I kept looking down the stairs to see if they were coming back up while I pulled open all those latches on the windows, and I remember poor Mom kept shaking her head in horror at me."
"She still kept her hands in the air, as instructed by the robbers, but kept shaking her head at me, saying not to go out there, as she must have thought the robbers would see.
"But all I knew was that I was getting us out of there! I started to climb out when I saw the cops pull up and I shouted down to them, telling them the situation. By then, apparently, the robbers had already left!
"I did not go out on to the 'overhang' ... but I did put Nadine and Warren (our children) out there and held on to their hands ... ," Angela remembers.
"The people who had gathered outside the shop climbed up and took them down! (They actually formed a human ladder to do it)!"
The gunmen, in the meantime, had escaped through the front, and even when the police had arrived, a few minutes after, there was still some confusion as to whether the robbers had actually left.
Having gone through that trauma, it took more than a few years for my kids to instinctively recognise that the police were indeed the good guys.
Perhaps, needless to say, Tony and his family migrated to Canada the very first opportunity they got. Tony, himself, has set foot on the land of his birth only once since and that was for Mama's funeral.
I think our timely arrival actually saved everyone who was trapped downstairs. What with the number of people arriving, including children, and God knows how many other persons outside, shouting, "Open the door," that must have really put 'Starsky' and 'Hutch' in a quandary. We really messed up their plans!
What made Angela lock the door behind her? Perhaps the situation would have turned out tragically different if I was not locked out. Only God alone knows.
Certainly, within a year or two, we were made to understand that the police had indeed shot and killed 'Starsky' and 'Hutch', who had made off with a tidy sum.
The other times I have stared down a barrel of a gun will have to wait for another time. Have a good day!